09/22/2005 11:00PM

Montjeu-sired trio holds key to Arc


NEW YORK - The 2005 racing season has resembled a war of attrition on both sides of the Atlantic.

Pico Central is the latest in a list of American casualties that includes Ghostzapper, Roses in May, Giacomo, Eddington, and Bellamy Road. Afleet Alex has not been seen since his Belmont Stakes heroics on June 11 and is doubtful for the Breeders' Cup Classic. Kitten's Joy is out of the Joe Hirsch Turf Classic and is doubtful for the BC Turf. The death of 12-length UAE Derby winner Blues and Royals only added to the carnage.

In Europe the injury list is just as long. It started with the retirement of 2000 Guineas winner Footstepsinthe-sand and continued with the demise of last year's Epsom Derby champ, North Light. The retirement of French 1000 Guineas and French Oaks winner Divine Proportions sent shockwaves through the European racing community, only to be followed by the retirement of English Oaks winner Eswarah. The biggest loss of them all might be that of Shamardal. The winner of the French 2000 Guineas, French Derby, and St. James's Palace Stakes for Godolphin, Shamardal was sent to the paddocks after having suffered a fetlock injury on the eve of his much-anticipated clash with Epsom Derby champ Motivator in the Eclipse Stakes on July 2.

Add to these the season-ending leg injury to sensational Japanese and American Oaks winner Cesario and the names of the walking wounded around the world may just outclass whatever remains in training.

Next Sunday's Prix de l'Arc de Triomphe has been hit by injury and defections as well. A slight setback suffered by King George VI and Queen Elizabeth Diamond Stakes winner Azamour in the Irish Champion Stakes on Sept. 10 has forced him out of the Arc, and he will proceed directly to the Breeders' Cup Turf.

Electrocutionist and Zenno Rob Roy were both Arc contenders following their one-two finish in the Juddmonte International at York on Aug. 16, but both will sidestep the Longchamp fixture. Fearing soft ground, owner Earle Mack is sending Electrocutionist to Woodbine for the Canadian International on Oct. 23, while Zenno Rob Roy has been sent back to Japan to try for a second consecutive Autumn Tenno Sho-Japan Cup-Arima Kinen triple.

Despite the losses, the Arc still looks like a highly competitive race, with five very serious contenders and a handful of appealing dark horses, a number of whom have Breeders' Cup Turf aspirations.

The key to solving the Arc puzzle may lie through Montjeu, the son of Sadler's Wells who won the Arc in 1999. Montjeu's first-crop foals are 3-year-olds this year, and they have created sensation after sensation throughout Europe. Fortunately, all three of Montjeu's big-race winners are intact and scheduled to line up for the Arc next Sunday at 11:30 a.m. Eastern time.

Most prominent of the Montjeu trio is Hurricane Run. But for a rare misjudged ride by Christophe Soumillon in the French Derby, he would be undefeated. As it was, Hurricane Run fell a neck short of catching Shamardal at Chantilly that day, but has since won the Irish Derby and the course and distance Arc prep for 3-year-olds, the Prix Niel. Trained by Andre Fabre, owned by Michael Tabor, and now ridden by Kieren Fallon, Hurricane Run is a deserving 5-2 Arc favorite.

The second Montjeu, Motivator, looked like a world-beater when he stormed home in the Epsom Derby by five lengths, defeating another Montjeu colt, Walk in the Park. Motivator has, however, twice finished second to Oratorio, in both the Eclipse Stakes and the Irish Champion Stakes, both Group 1 races at 1 1/4 miles - which is a distance simply too short for him. He should relish the return to 1 1/2 miles.

The third Montjeu - Scorpion - might be the most interesting of them all. A relatively late bloomer who improved to finish just a half-length behind Hurricane Run in the Irish Derby, Scorpion then set a Longchamp and Arc course record for 1 1/2 miles when winning the Grand Prix de Paris. He returned after a two-month vacation to win the 1 3/4-mile, 132-yard St. Leger Stakes on Sept. 11 over heavy ground, proving that he can handle any kind of surface.

Meanwhile, the Aga Khan's Shawanda will try to become the first 3-year-old filly to win the Arc since Akiyda in 1982. With victories in the Irish Oaks and the Prix Vermeille, she has the credentials as well as the bloodlines, since she is a daughter of the 2000 Arc winner, Sinndar.

Pride's victory in the Prix Foy on Arc prep day was probably better on paper than the victories of either Hurricane Run or Shawanda, making this 5-year-old daughter of 1997 Arc winner Peintre Celebre a strong contender. Westerner, the Wildensteins' superb stayer - with five Group 1 tallies to his credit at distances of two miles or longer - brings much stamina to the table and will be extra dangerous on soft or heavy ground.

Remember Bago? Last year's Arc winner, Bago looks like the forgotten horse this time around. Winless in three starts since taking the Prix Ganay on April 24, Bago worked well this week at Chantilly but has not run since his third in the King George on July 23 and might be a better bet in the Breeders' Cup Turf or the Japan Cup, both of which are on his autumn agenda.